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NHS to replace NPfIT Spine system with open-source technology

Caroline Baldwin

The NHS is rebuilding its Spine platform using open-source software.

The Department of Health has chosen the open-source database Riak, from US developer Basho, to update to Spine 2, which will go live in 2014.

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The Spine infrastructure is a communications hub that connects key IT services developed as part of the troubled NHS National Programme for IT (NPfIT). These services include electronic prescriptions and GP2GP, which enables patients’ electronic health records to be transferred directly and securely between GP practices.

Basho said in a statement on Wednesday that the NHS chose the Riak database to “deliver a more flexible and resilient solution.”

Riak will enable the NHS to update to Spine 2 without choosing expensive systems integrators, cutting down costs and time to implement the new solution.

“In the healthcare industry, keeping costs low and simultaneously improving the level of care are critical requirements,” said Greg Collins, CEO at Basho Technologies. 

“As medical information becomes digital, government health organisations need IT capabilities that provide uninterrupted, reliable access to critical, life-saving information. Riak’s built-in resiliency and predictable scalability are two important features that directly benefit the NHS.”

IT consultancy BJSS will develop Spine 2 using the Riak database. The consultancy was awarded a place on the government’s G-Cloud programme in February 2012. Four month later it was selected to work alongside the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) -a successor to NPfIT owner NHS Connecting for Health - on developing the Spine 2 project.

BJSS told Computer Weekly that is working with HSCIC to build the core services of Spine 2 such as electronic prescriptions and care records “in a series of iterative developments.”

The company will also develop options to replace the user-interfacing systems that access Care Records and Demographics Services, while ensuring the existing external interfaces remain unchanged to ensure there is no adverse impact on existing connected systems.

BJSS is using agile methodologies working closely with HSCIC to deliver Spine 2, while following principles encouraged by the Cabinet Office.

"The first thing we did as a combined team was to work through the risks and look at its architecture," said Mark Pullan BJSS chief software engineer. "This approach really helped us to understand how to deliver it."


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